Alstonville nurse's close call with China quake

MARGARET WARD was about to board a plane when she felt the deathly tremors of China's devastating earthquake.

The former Alstonville nurse was at Xianyang Airport, about three hours' drive from Sichuan Province where the earthquake, which reached 7.9 in magnitude and which has killed many thousands of people, hit on Monday at 2.30pm.

At the time she thought it was a bomb.

Ms Ward, who for three years has been living and working with street kids in Baoji City, in neighbouring Shaanxi Province, related her frightening experience to The Northern Star yesterday by mobile phone from Shanghai.

Having checked through security, Ms Ward said she was seated in the passenger lounge awaiting a flight to Shanghai, where she was to meet her daughter, Luci Cavalerie, a former Alstonville Primary School pupil, who was travelling on a Qantas flight from Brisbane to visit her.

When the tremors started she said "the man beside me stared at my legs to see if I was moving".

"Then people began to stare at each other as the building vibrated," she said.

"The silence was amazing as it is always so noisy with the chatter of the people. Then tiles fell from the wall, there were crashing noises, people began to run, duty free shops were left unattended.

"I sat still as I was frightened to get caught up in the panic. People were trying to get outside, but doors locked, then an attendant ushered everyone out to the tarmac.

"I felt numb. I thought it was a bomb. It was very hot. People were emerging from all the exits to stand away from the building.

"There were rows of planes and lots of people all looking stunned and wanting to use their phones (which were down)."

As the only foreigner among the hundreds of stranded Chinese passengers, Ms Ward said there was no English translation.

"So I couldn't get from anyone what was happening. It was pretty scary," she said.

With all communications down for 12 hours, including the airport's flight information boards, Ms Ward was unable to contact her daughter until hours later.

"I had no idea how or where she was," she said. "I was really worried about her."

Ms Ward, who was yesterday still in Shanghai with Luci, said she had heard reports from her Baoji friends that people there were sleeping outside their buildings.

The children at the centre where she works also took their bedding onto the courtyard and slept outside.

"People wandered the streets too scared to go into their high-rise housing," she said.

"My unit is on 23rd floor so if had been there I would have joined the 3.8 million outside too."

Ms Ward said a house on the mountain behind their centre was destroyed with tiles and windows having fallen onto the streets. With the death toll now at more than 20,000, the quake is the worst to hit China since the Tangshan earthquake in 1976, which claimed 242,000 lives.

Ms Ward is returning to Australia with Luci later this month. But she intends to return to Baoji City to carry on her work at the centre with street kids.


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